album review: way to blue – the songs of nick drake

old methodist cemetery, elizabethtown, nc

I think that everyone who knows Nick Drake’s music has their own relationship to it; the first time they heard it, the people they think of when they hear one of Drake’s delicate, haunting songs on an ad, in a bar, on a television show. For me, an ex-boyfriend introduced me to Pink Moon, and when we split up, I found a lot of comfort in the ache and shiver of Drake’s last full offering. Nick Drake’s music means a lot to a huge number of people, and a tribute could, then, be a dicey proposition.

This record, though, left in the hands in Joe Boyd, Drake’s producer and champion in Drake’s lifetime and beyond, is a lovely masterpiece. He took a unique approach to curating it, not only handpicking the musicians, but pulling them together, off and on over years, in small rural studios and larger tribute concerts, to give the album a cohesive feel, a cohesive sound. The roster of artists, all have some connection, direct or emotional, to Drake, and it’s a mix of names you know, and names you don’t but should.

Unlike some tribute albums — and some good ones, I might add — where each band tries to put their own stamp on the music they’re covering, Boyd has made a careful production decision to respect the stark sadness of Drake’s songs. The touch he has added, though, is a lushness and warmth to back the serious words and emotions with thick string orchestrations, warm keyboard sounds, and bringing the vocals on all the tracks to the front, where the singer is the focus but the sounds make the warmth and intimacy and care and sadness of Drake’s lyrics.

Any thought or conversation about Nick Drake’s music requires a delicate touch, and a personal connection to the music. Joe Boyd, in curating this collection, has created a tribute to someone who never thought he deserved a tribute, nor got one in his lifetime, that is warm and thoughtful, created by each artist with the deft touch and respect that Drake’s songs deserve. It’s truly wonderful, soft and sad and hopeful.

The record comes out April 16, and you can check out an early track from Lisa Hannigan on NPR here.

“Every week, somewhere in the world, singers gather in clubs and halls to sing the songs of Nick Drake. It is sobering to think that more people now hear his songs in a month than ever heard them in his lifetime.” – Joe Boyd

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